July 19, 2011


Iraq expects drought to cut wheat crop



Drought is expected to cut Iraq's wheat harvest this year to 1.75 million tonnes, below prior expectations and lower than the 1.866 million tonnes produced last year.


"Weather conditions and the drought that hit the (northern) areas were the main reasons. Rains came late," said Hassan Ibrahim, Iraq's grain board chief.


Iraq's agriculture minister and officials had said they expected the wheat harvest for 2011 to reach between 2-2.5 million tonnes based on good weather earlier in the year.


Iraq is one of the world's largest grain importers, supplying a large public food ration programme. It consumes 4.5 million tonnes of wheat and 1.2 million tonnes of rice a year, most of it imported.


The wheat producing heartland of the northern areas around Mosul and Arbil has been hit by drought this year.


Ibrahim said Iraq plans to issue a tender on Tuesday (Jul 19) to buy 100,000 tonnes of wheat from any origin, and that Iraq has bought enough rice from the contracts to cover its requirements for 2011.


Ibrahim also said he expected global wheat prices to fall after Russia lifted a year-long ban on exports on July 1.


Last month, officials said they had expected Iraq to produce an annual harvest of four million tonnes of wheat in three years time and be able to cover domestic demand, based on the new irrigation plans across the country.


Iraq's agriculture ministry is boosting efforts to encourage farmers to use new irrigation methods to reduce the use of exploited water and help trim water shortages and combat drought.


Iraq's Nineveh northern province, the biggest wheat producer, has output at only 119,000 tonnes so far this year compared with 400,000 tonnes during the same period last year, Ibrahim said.


Iraq will continue issuing wheat tenders until it makes up for the shortages during 2011, he said.


Wheat prices in Iraq are the highest in the region as the government works to encourage farmers to grow more wheat. This year the grain board paid US$615 per tonne to local farmers for their produce.